Aperitivo Hour – A sneaky way to eat for free in Italy

Italians are famed for their hospitality, but there is no better example of this than aperitivo hour in Milan.

Mr and Mrs Romance - Aperitivo hour Milan
Go to any bar in the nation’s fashion capital at around 6 or 7pm and you’ll be welcomed by a wonderful sight.

We discovered it completely by accident when we were looking for a place for dinner on our first visit to Milan.

We’d sat down in Pandenus – a little bar on Via Tadino – for a spritz Aperol or two when we spotted the wide array of comestibles set out along the bar. Patrons were going up and helping themselves to a delicious and endless supply of olives, cheese, house-made pizzas, cous cous salads, frittatas, crudités and more.

We were totally confused by the setup and were busy daring each other to go and grab something when a waitress came up and explained the situation.

Mr and Mrs Romance - Aperitivo hour in MilanMr and Mrs Romance - Aperitivo buffet in MilanMr and Mrs Romance - bar buffet in Milan

As long as you’ve bought a drink (it doesn’t even have to be alcoholic), you’re more than welcome to go up, grab a plate and chow down. We watched amazed as the kitchen cooked up, cut up and served pizza after pizza, replenished the platters of antipasto and refilled the dips. We were astounded. And it was all delicious.

It turns out plenty of places in Milan do this to varying levels; it might be just olives and a bit of cheese or – as with Pandenus – a full spread. A lot of other places in Italy do this too – especially in the north, but it’s the Milanese who have really mastered this gastronomic stroke of genius.

Mr and Mrs Romance - the aperitivo hour buffet in MilanMr and Mrs Romance - pizza buffet in Milan

Established to encourage the appetite before dinner, the Milanese traditionally have a drink before dinner: an aperitivo. The complimentary snacks that they eat with their drink are called stuzzichini or appetisers. This ‘aperitivo hour’ – similar to our happy hour only food based – usually goes from 6 or 7pm until about 9pm. Or until people stop eating.

We found we weren’t really hungry for dinner by the time we left Pandenus, but we left with the feeling we’d happened upon one of those local secrets that make travelling so much fun.

Mr and Mrs Romance - Cin Cin - aperitivo hour Milan

Have you ever experienced aperitivo hour? What’s the best local secret you’ve discovered whilst travelling?

Images by Mrs Romance.


  • Reply April 17, 2014


    I’ve never been to Italy but there’s a few bars near me that do Aperitivio hour and I love it. It’s no where near as fancy as that though!

    • Reply April 17, 2014

      Mr Romance

      Really, Smags? There are places in Melbourne that do aperitivo hour? That’s it. I’m moving south!

  • ATTENTION BAR OWNERS OF AUSTRALIA: bring Aperitivo hour to Australia already! We did this in Florence and absolutely loved it. Such a brilliant concept and you can’t help but think it could only help improve our drinking culture…

    • Reply April 29, 2014

      Mr Romance

      TOTALLY agree, Sonia! How good would it be if bars here did Aperitivo Hour?!! I suppose it might make me drink a bit more… but at least there’ll be something to soak it up, ay? 😉

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